Atletico striker was sent off 10 minutes later after second bookable offence
Suarez scored twice to secure 2-1 victory for Barca in quarter-final first leg
Simeone has now lost all seven matches against Luis Enrique's Barcelona
The search goes on. Diego Simeone’s side still have not found a plan to deal with Luis Enrique’s Barcelona.
In that respect they are like every other team in world football, because the Catalans are still favourites to go on and win a second consecutive treble.
But Simeone, who has now lost all seven of the games his team has played against Lucho’s Blaugrana, is getting closer to perfecting the formula.
In 2013-14, he had Tata Martino’s number. Atletico played Barcelona six times and went unbeaten in all of them. Then Luis Enrique arrived and converted a limp imitation of Pep Guardiola’s game into an altogether more dangerous beast, willing to roll with the punches and cede some control for the chance to spring forward with star trio Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
Whereas Tata’s team played right into Atletico’s hands, the current Barcelona don’t, although with every game they inch nearer to getting a result.
They took the lead here, and the last time they played Barcelona at Camp Nou too, spending the first period of both games unthreatened, but both times were undone by red cards. Fair red cards, but stupid ones.
Tactically, Simeone went for a more aggressive side than he has opted to pick in the past at the Nou Camp. He correctly decided that trying to keep a clean sheet against the ‘MSN’ at home is one of the trickier jobs in football, so knew his team had to find the net themselves here to have a chance across the tie.
He usually plays a 4-4-2 with a compact midfield, each of whom can hold their own in a scrap. This time he went with three of the usual battlers, in Gabi, Saul and Koke, but also Yannick Carrasco, the exciting winger. That meant they could move into a 4-3-3 formation, with the Belgian moving up alongside Torres and star man Antoine Griezmann.
The Argentine was rewarded for his bravery when Fernando Torres rolled the ball through the legs of Ter Stegen in the 25th minute, after Koke's perfectly-weighted through-ball matched the Spaniard's run.
Simeone knew he would start Torres in this game during his team's 5-1 win over Real Betis on Saturday, taking the forward off to conserve his energy then announcing the decision in his post-match press conference.
It was the right call, with the veteran hitman finding his best form in recent weeks, with five goals in 10 games including this one. What Simeone couldn't have predicted, however, was Torres' red card.
Atletico's high energy high press style saw Torres deployed as the first line of defence. Unfortunately that's not his strong point. He clumsily hacked down Neymar who was skipping along on one of his cross-field dribbles, going into Felix Brych's notebook.
That was in the 29th minute. In the 33rd, he rattled Javier Mascherano with a bad tackle, which the German official let slide. But just two minutes later, in the 35th, he was forced to end Torres' participation in the game. The striker crashed into Sergio Busquets, failing to get any of the ball, and was dismissed.
Simeone ranted and raved on the touchline, throwing his hands up into the air, spinning around in fury. Atletico's players protested frantically on the pitch, Torres refused to leave it. The decision was correct—the striker’s reluctance to depart also helped tick away a few more precious seconds.
Atletico started time-wasting in the first half, with Barcelona fans becoming increasingly irritated. The players, too. That’s what this Atletico team do to you. They are horrible to play against. It is with good reason that some are labelling this the ‘new Clasico’.
While the hatred between Barcelona and Real Madrid can never be recreated in another game, there is plenty of bad blood between these teams. Most of it has grown in the past season and a half—the time period in which Atletico have not been able to avoid defeat against Barcelona.
Whereas Barcelona supporters clapped them on the final day of the 2013-14 season, when the 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp gave the visitors the title instead of the hosts, there was admiration for the magnificent season the capital club had produced. Now there is just bitterness.
It started with Luis Enrique’s first game against Atletico, on January 11, 2015. That was a hugely important match not just for the shape of these teams’ battle with each other, but for where Barcelona are today and the treble they achieved last season.
The previous league game had been the 1-0 defeat by David Moyes’ Real Sociedad at Anoeta, and this was the time Barcelona’s stars, especially Messi, had to come out and show they were united for the cause. They did, blowing away a particularly-brutal Atletico 3-1.
Feeling from that game carried over into the next two, later in January for the Copa del Rey quarter-finals. Tensions rose across both legs, which Barcelona won 1-0 and then 2-3, with Arda Turan, then dressed in Rojiblanco, getting so incensed he flung his boot at the linesman.
Barcelona ended the season getting another one over on Simeone’s team, winning the league at the Vicente Calderon after a virtuoso Messi strike, making up for the final match of the previous campaign.
Both league clashes in 2015-16 ended in the Catalans winning 2-1, with the most recent of these taking place at this ground on January 30 this year. Atletico had both Filipe Luis and Diego Godin sent off and still managed to nullify Barcelona’s stars for a large part of the game.
But Barcelona with Suarez are a different proposition to Barcelona without him. He is the main difference between the team Simeone dominated to the one he can’t find a win against. And he made the difference again here.
Reacting lightning-quick to Jordi Alba’s misplaced shot, he deflected it home, before heading Dani Alves’ cross beyond the despairing Jan Oblak to win Barcelona the game.
Simeone leaves with another defeat, but one which he will believe his team would have taken something from, were it not for Torres’ red card. And with the score staying at 2-1, it was actually the visitors who left happier than the hosts.
Despite being the villain, Torres could end up a hero, because his away goal means a slender 1-0 win at the Vicente Calderon in the second leg would be enough to send Atletico through. Over to Diego.